While the caliphate of Cordoba was in its death-throes and Fernando I was learning the art of government in Castile, another struggle was being played out several hundred miles to the north. In the summer of 1030 Olaf Haraldson, the recently ousted king of Norway, tried to win his land back from the regents who were governing it in the name of the great Canute, ruler of Denmark and England. Olaf was defeated and killed at the battle of Stiklestad... he was to be venerated as a saint, St. Olave [sic]. In the battle he had been aided by his young half-brother Harald, son of a member of one of Norway's many princely dynasties, a chieftain known as Sigurd Sow.Yes, I know this story very well. I once wrote a poem about Sigurd Sow. It was part of a novel I wrote in China -- never published, and almost lost, but that a dear and beloved friend of mine happened to keep a copy.
This is another of the old poems, in the form of a drapa. A drapa is a flokk with a refrain, so that it was sometimes called a draepling. It was a high form of Norse poetry fit for extolling the father of a great king; but Sigurd Syr, as he was known in the Heimskringla, was not a great warrior. How to praise him in the old Norse terms?
This is a rather technical form, and the references are obscure if you aren't versed in Norse mythology and the older sagas. Still, not many try the drapa these days, so it may be of interest to some of you.
Rare the good king not a killer,
wise sleeper in his stronghold.
Ox-slain Egil Yngling
the Thing-thrall put to fleeing:
A dead king never dreaded.
When Old Starkad came to Sweden
Haki then Hugleik's land claimed. --
Where now is the hall-holder...
Aun, always the weak-slayer,
his sired he'd Odhinn offer;
He ran before Upsala's chieftain.
But Yngvar's son, Anund the Breaker,
Took the war-shield only
slaying his father's slayer.
Rare few are remembered wiser --
...the kingdom-ruler of wisdom?
One remembered is Sigurd
stepfather to the Digre,
father of the Hardrada,
Old lord of the northhold.
Shade from his hat, that broad-brim,
we remember as rain without thunder. --
Where now is the hall-holder,
Nothing with him dragons wanted,
Nor warriors who disdained golden
Grain. Loved him thrall and bonder:
He cared for cattle, but battle
He found empty of the glory
That forever draws the fighter.
No man’s thralls were freer. --
The kingdom-ruler of wisdom.